Today, while I was watching my son at his archery event, I couldn't help but notice a young lady who was struggling. She was young, like the group my son was shooting with, but shooting from much farther away and aiming at a smaller target than they were, like the older archery kids. She only rarely struck the target. She did not look like she was having fun.
After the ten rounds were done and the kids were tallying their scores, the coach (who deftly manages to balance the emotional, developmental, and archerial (?) needs of kids between the ages of 8 and 18) approached her, and I heard this conversation (which I immediately wrote down):
"I did horrible."
"No you didn't. This is your first time to shoot [a] 40 centimeters [target] and your first time to shoot 18 meters [distance]. How do you know what horrible is? You scored 78. Now that's your baseline. We'll look for improvement. So if you score 82 next time, that counts as a good score." [It may help to know that 300 is a perfect score, and most kids there were scoring in the 200s.]
Aside from reinforcing my already good opinion of him and his coaching, this conversation struck home (and inspired frantic note-taking) because it's exactly what I wish for education. Exactly. Personal, progress-based goals that take into account where students start.
Instead I teach in a national system that believes if we tell students how much they should know at what age, that's the best way to Race to the Top with No Kid Left Behind. If we keep throwing tests their way eventually students will just give in and learn on our schedule instead of their own.
I love what I saw demonstrated today. I want that for every kid in every subject in every school.
I'll continue to focus on progress within the structure of our current educational system.
I'll continue to share ideas and hope for change.